Have you heard your dental hygienist calling out numbers during a regular visit? Was she coming at your mouth with a tiny metal stick with lines on it? Were you thinking not today, crazy tooth lady! If you thought she was just insane, you might be right! Just kidding… It is actually really important to understand what that instrument is and what those numbers mean in order to maintain optimal oral health. I’m here to give you an explanation.
Periodontal charting is a part of our professional obligation to provide our patients with high-quality dental care. As one of our valued patients, you should have a full-mouth periodontal charting once a year. In some instances, we may take spot probings of problem areas at interim visits to focus on specific improvements or maintenance.
The periodontal probe is an instrument with 1mm markings on it that we use to measure the depth of your gums. Periodontal probing should not be an unpleasant experience for you unless the tissue is inflamed, or your hygienist is evil… Let me break it down for you and get nerdy!
The gums and underlying bone are just as important as the actual part of the tooth that you can see in your mouth. We refer to them as the periodontium, essentially, the supporting foundation for your teeth. Periodontal probing (those random numbers we call out to our computer) is the way with which we check the health of your gums and the underlying bone.
Step 1: Evaluating your gums
- Colour – are they pinkish or red? Like every girl from the 80’s and 90’s, we want them to be pink!
- Are they inflamed and swollen? We want them to be firm and stippled like an orange peel!
- Was there any bleeding with the measurement taken with the probe? To make your hygienist believe you have been flossing, there should be zero to minimal bleeding spots!
When we probe your mouth, we want to be charting numbers between 1 mm and 3mm. This is what generally indicates a healthy mouth. We call these numbers periodontal pockets. When we start to get numbers greater then 3mm, it can indicate that there may be a problem or concern with the health of your gums. Shall we (periodontal) probe a little deeper?
Probing depths greater than 3 mm can mean:
- that there is actual bone loss in that area of the deeper pocket
- that the gums are inflamed or swollen in that area of the deeper pocket
- there could be combination of bone loss and swelling
When the pocket is greater than 3mm, our hope is that it is just inflammation or swelling (also known as the dreaded gingivitis). Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease and can be reversed quite easily by improving home care, specifically flossing! If your gums bleed while flossing, just keep flossing, even if it is uncomfortable. Within a couple of days, that bleeding should stop. Within a couple of weeks, your gums should be back to a firm healthy pink! When the probing measurements are greater than 3 mm and are due to actual bone loss and not inflammation, then we will be able to see the bone loss on x-rays. This means that periodontal disease has progressed past inflammation only. At this stage, it is not reversible. BUT I have great news, you can stop periodontal disease from progressing by maintaining proper home care (brushing and flossing), as well as regular visits with your friendly neighbourhood dental hygienist!
So you can see, your hygienist is not just some crazy tooth lady – although some days you might be right! As hygienists, along with the rest of our dental team, we strive to provide you and all of our patients with the best dental care possible. If you ever have any questions, we love getting tooth nerdy and are happy to help answer them in the most accurate way we can!
Thanks for reading!
Braeside Dental Centre